Sleeping pills can be quite addictive, including zopiclone and zaleplon, which are more similar to other benzodiazepines than drug companies like to admit (see Jones JR, Physical dependence on zopiclone, BMJ 316:117, 1998).
Common causes of insomnia include depression, anxiety disorders, stress and sleep apnea. Alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, physical illness (especially cardiopulmonary disease) are also fairly common.
Serious side effects from sleeping pills are also common. According to one study (Kupfer DJ, Management of insomnia, NEJM 336:341-46, 1997), no randomized trial has shown a benefit to taking a medicine for longer than 35 days. Benzodiazepines are addictive, suppress memories, increase risk of falls in the elderly and affect cognition in some elderly patients (Bursztajn HJ, Arch Int Med 159:2393-95, 1999).
Sleeping pills can be very helpful, too. If used for a short period of time only. If used sparingly from time to time. If used only to break a cycle of insomnia.
Before taking another medicine, try these things:
- Go to bed only when sleepy
- Do not read, eat or watch TV in bed (for sleeping and sex only)
- If you are in bed and can’t sleep, go to another room until really sleepy, than go back to bed. Do nto watch TV (is arousing).
- Set the alarm for the same time each morning.
- Avoid sleeping during the day.
Another approach is to write down the amount of sleep you get, than make bedtime that number of hours plus thirty minutes before the fixed morning wake up time. After a week, make the bedtime 15 minutes earlier every week that 85% of the time in bed is spent sleeping.
Behavioural therapy (including challenging the common expectation everyone needs 8 hours of sleep) has been shown to be more effective than any medicine after two years of floow-up (Morin CM. Behavioural and pharmacological therapies, JAMA 281:991-9, 1999). Old folks who exercise sleep better (King AC, JAMA 277:32-7, 1997.)
By all means try sleeping pills. Occasionally. They are not a magic bullet, are generally addictive and commonly make one feel “drugged” the morning after. They also have their place.